The Auteurs: François Truffaut (Part 2)
After a decade that redefined cinema, the French New Wave movement came to an end in 1970. Many of the influential figures in the movement were forging their own identities in the world of cinema. For François Truffaut, the 70’s mark decade where he would make a slew of diverse films. These works didn’t just play with traditional forms of narrative, but also infused innovated ideas that helped to maintain his status as one of France’s leading filmmakers.
Truffaut: The Post New-Wave & Final Years (1970-1983)
The Wild Child (review)
Inspired by a story he read in the mid-1960s about Victor of Aveyron, François Truffaut next film focused on Aveyron’s (played by Jean-Pierre Cargol) time spending the first eleven years of his life with very little human contact. Utilizing voice-over narration, Truffaut and screenwriter Jean Grualt decided to take unique approach to the narrative. They opted to have Dr. Jean Itard’s (played by Truffaut) perspective, and not Aveyron’s, be the focal point of the story.
Since the story was set in the late 18th Century, Truffaut decided to use the music of Antonio Vivaldi to give the film a sense of authenticity. Gaining the services of the renowned Spanish-born Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who had been making a name for himself in France by working exclusively with Éric Rohmer, Truffaut decided to shoot the film in black-and-white. Almendros’ approach to naturalistic lighting definitely gave Truffaut a new visual style to explore and helped to further accentuate Dr. Itard’s curiosity with Aveyron.
The Wild Child received raves from critics but its commercial reception was considered disappointing. Truffaut received the Best Director Award from the National Board of Review, while the National Society of Film Critics gave Almendros an award for his cinematography work.
Bed and Board (review)
Following the disappointing commercial reception of The Wild Child, Truffaut returned to the proven box office security of his Antoine Doinel series. The fourth instalment in the series focused on Doinel’s (Jean-Pierre Léaud) marriage to Christine (Claude Jade) and his struggles to find a steady job. Despite being older, Doinel still finds it tough to resist many of the temptations that life has to offer. Shooting in early 1970, and with Nestor Almendros once again on board, Truffaut’s film displayed both elements of offbeat humor and numerous references to other films. While Bed and Board did very well at the box office it did not garner the same level of positive reviews that the previous entries received.
Two English Girls (review)
Still reeling from his break-up with Catherine Deneuve, Truffaut found himself engrossed in a novel by Henri-Pierre Roche that was similar in tone to Jules & Jim. Two English Girls revolved around the relationship between a Frenchman, Claude (Jean-Pierre Léaud), and two English sisters, Ann and Muriel Brown (Kika Markham and Stacey Tendeter), during the early 20th Century. Spanning 20 years, the film provided a perspective on love triangles that was stylistically different from Jules & Jim.
Shot on location in Britain, Nestor Almendros cinematography was colorful and naturalistic. The visuals added to the film’s restrained and melancholic tone. The music by Georges Delerue helped to display the differences between Ann’s prim and sophisticated nature and Muriel’s moody and anguished demeanor. Together they represent Claude’s ideal of the perfect woman.
Two English Girls debuted in November of 1971 but François Truffaut decided to re-cut the film for its wide release, a decision he would later regret. He eventually restored the cut scenes back into the film prior to his death. A shortened version was released in the U.S. where it got excellent reviews and did modestly well in its limited release. Despite the positive reaction, Truffaut was bruised by its lack of commercial success.
Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (review)
The disappointing commercial reaction of Two English Girls forced Truffaut to create something that was commercially viable. He turned to a novel by Henry Farrell about a sociologist, Stanislas Prévine (André Dussolier), who falls in love with a woman in prison, Camille Bliss (Bernadette Lafont), accused of murdering both her lover and her father. Teaming up with screenwriter Jean-Loup Dabadie, Truffaut’s film took a comedic look at both the many misadventures Bliss found herself in, and the ways she tried to manipulate the various situations.
Jumping back-and-forth in time, and incorporating moments of slapstick, the narrative skillfully follows Prévine as he loses himself in Bliss’ charm, unaware that he’s being cuckold every step of the way. Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me made its European premiere in September of 1972 and was a commercial hit despite receiving mixed reviews. The film eventually was released in art-house theaters in Britain and U.S. in early 1973.
Day for Night (review)
Fascinated by the art of cinema, François Truffaut decided to make a film about the ups and downs of filmmaking. Featuring a film-within-a-film structure, Truffaut casted himself as the director of a film where everything seems to be going wrong. Mixing moments of humor and drama, Day for Night infused a sense of realism that provided insight into the complexities most directors endure. For the fictional film within Day for Night, entitled Meet Pamela, Truffaut ensured that it was opposite to the type of works that Truffaut had made in his career.
Longtime collaborator Jean-Pierre Léaud played a young heartthrob while the rest of the cast included Jacqueline Bissett, Valentina Cortese, Nathalie Baye, Jean Champion, Dani, Alexandra Stewart, and Jean-Pierre Aumont as actors/crew members in of Meet Pamela. With Pierre-William Glenn serving as cinematographer, Truffaut infused references to his own films to blur the lines between fiction and reality even further. He also included moments where a background character broke the forth wall to provide her own commentary on cinema.
Day for Night played out of competition at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival to a great reception. The film went on to win both an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Foreign-Language Film. Truffaut received an Oscar nomination for Best Director while Valentina Cortese received a nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category. The film’s success was a relief for Truffaut who was coming off a troubled period which saw a mixture of successes and failures.
The Story of Adèle H. (review)
After taking a year off, Truffaut decided make a film based on the journals of Adèle Hugo, the daughter of the famed French writer Victor Hugo. Teaming up with screenwriters Suzanne Schiffman and Jean Grualt to write the script, The Story of Adèle H. explored Adèle’s love for a British officer, a love that ultimately led to her tragic downfall. For the role of Adèle Hugo, Isabelle Adjani was cast while British actor/future filmmaker Bruce Robinson played the part of Lt. Pinson, Adele’s object of affection and torment.
While François Truffaut originally planned to shoot the film on location in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Adele’s story actually took place, he realized that the location wasn’t suitable for the specific time period needed for the film. Truffaut eventually chose the island of Guernsey where Victor Hugo lived during his exile in the mid-19th Century. With Nestor Almendros back on board to shoot the film, Truffaut was able to construct a film that adequately conveyed Adele’s descent into madness as she obsessively pursued Lt. Pinson for an entire year. The melancholic tone of the narrative was heightened by the music of Maurice Jaubert, whom scored many of Truffuat’s films in the mid-1970s.
The Story of Adèle H. drew rave reviews, and did modestly well at the box office, upon its release. Isabelle Adjani received the Best Actress Award from the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, and the New York Critics Circle. She also earned her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The New York Critics Circle also gave The Story of Adèle H. an award for Best Screenplay.
Small Change (review)
Wanting to return to making films about young love, François Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman wrote a light-hearted comedy together that revolved around the year in the life of various children in a small French town. Small Change was very loose in terms of storytelling but had much to say about the nature of children. The majority of the actors that appeared in the film were non-professionals and added a sense of authenticity to Truffaut’s exploration.
Small Change premiered in March of 1976 and received excellent reviews. It became one of Truffaut’s most commercially successful films in France. The film also garnered a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Foreign Film category.
The Man Who Loved Women (review)
After a small break from directing, which included a trip to the U.S. to play a supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, François Truffaut’s next film, The Man Who Loved Women, revolved around a womanizer, Bertrand Morane (Charles Denner), who writes about his various encounters with his lovers (Brigitte Fossey, Nelly Borgeaud, Genevieve Fontanel, and Leslie Caron). Collaborating with Suzanne Schiffman and Michel Fermaud to write the script, the narrative played into Morane’s obsession with legs and his own failures to make a viable connection with a woman.
Shooting began in late fall of 1976 as Truffaut had to wait for Nestor Almendros to return from working on Days of Heaven for Terrence Malick – a film he won an Oscar for Best Cinematography two years later. While The Man Who Loved Women was presented as a comedy, Truffaut infused elements of melancholia which played into Morane’s own failures as a man. The film made its premiere at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival to excellent reviews. The Man Who Loved Women was released in the U.S. through United Artist and was a hit with art-house audiences.
The Green Room (review)
After an excellent run of critical, Truffaut decided to revive a project he had been on working since 1970’s. It was an adaptation of a Henry James’ short story, The Altar of the Dead, which had languished due to Truffaut’s commitment to other films. Noticing that several of his mentors, such as Henri Langlois and Roberto Rossellini, had passed away, François Truffaut used The Green Room to work through his own questions of mortality. The story focused on a man, Julien Davanne, who creates an altar to celebrate those he lost.
Truffaut asked Charles Denner, of The Man Who Loved Women, to play the lead role but Denner was unavailable. So Truffaut eventually casted himself in the lead role while Nathalie Baye played Cecilia, the young woman who not only helped Davanne but also fell in love with him in the process. Since the story was set a decade after World War I, cinematographer Nestor Almendros was instrumental in giving the film a low-key Gothic look. The Green Room was released in the spring of 1978 with many of Truffaut’s closest friends and colleagues calling it one of his best film.
Love on the Run (review)
Looking for a hit to help him financially, François Truffaut decided to tell one more story about Antoine Doinel. The final film in the Doinel series revolved around Doinel and Christine finalizing their divorce as the former copes with the tumultuous relationship he had with his mother. Jean-Pierre Léaud not only reprised his role Doinel but Marie-France Pisier and Claude Jade returned as Colette and Christine respectively.
Love on the Run featured footage from the other films in the Doinel series which helped to emphasize Doinel’s troubled relationship with women. The production was chaotic due to the fact that Truffaut had to work with three different cinematographers. Regardless of struggles Truffaut endured, his final farewell to the character Antoine Doinel received stellar reviews from critics.
The Last Metro (review)
Following a brief break after the release of Love on the Run, François Truffaut decided to tackle a film that explored the occupation period in France during World War II, a topic he had been interested in for years. The success of his previous film gave Truffaut the financing he needed to make The Last Metro, a story about a woman attempting to hide her Jewish husband from the Nazis.
For the lead role of Marion Steiner, Truffaut wrote the part specifically for Catherine Deneuve. The role of theatre actor Bernard Granger went to Gérard Depardieu, who reluctantly agreed to the part despite not being a fan of François Truffaut’s directing style. The rest of the cast included Andrea Ferreol, Jean Poiret and Heinz Bennent as Steiner’s husband. Despite the dark period the drama covered, Truffaut still managed to create something that was both colorful and incorporated genuine moments of humor.
The production incurred several delays due to the fact that Depardieu injured his foot and screenwriter Suzanne Schiffman was hospitalized for an intestinal obstruction. The Last Metro finally made its premiere in September of 1980 and was a massive critical and commercial success for Truffaut. The film garnered both Golden Globes and Academy Awards nominations in the Best Foreign Film category. It was also triumphant at the Cesar Awards where it won Best Film, Best Director, Best Music, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Produciton, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and swept the acting categories.
The Woman Next Door (review)
The next film Truffaut made was a modern-day interpretation on the legendary story of Tristan and Iseult. The Woman Next Door revolved around a reunion between two former lovers in a small French town. The pair engage in an extramarital affair that has complex and troubling ramifications. Having enjoyed working with Gérard Depardieu, Truffaut cast him in the lead role of Bernard Coudray. The role of Coudray’s lover Mathilde Bauchard went to, then rising newcomer, Fanny Ardant. During the production of The Woman Next Door, Truffaut began a very fulfilling romantic relationship with Ardant. Upon its release the film was well-received by critics and did modestly well at the box office hit.
Confidentially Yours (review)
After taking a break between films to spend time with Fanny Ardant, Truffaut’s final film was an adaptation of Charles Williams’ The Long Saturday Night. Confidentially Yours told the story of a man who is accused of killing his wife and her lover. Truffaut decided to have Ardant play the lead role of Barbara, a secretary who decides to investigate whether her boss, Julien (Jean-Louis Trintignant), actually committed the crimes he is accused off.
Truffaut decided to shoot the film in black-and-white. Wanting to pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock, Truffaut maintained an air of suspense throughout while incorporating bits of humor. During the filming, Truffaut learned that Ardant was pregnant with their daughter Josephine, which forced him to speed up production. Truffaut also suffered a stroke in July and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite all of this, he managed to finish the film in time for its release in September of 1983.
Confidentially Yours was a critical and commercial success for Truffaut. The release was especially special for the director as it coincided with the birth of his daughter on September 28, 1983. Truffaut spent much of 1984 with Ardant taking care of their daughter before his untimely passing at the age of 52 on October 21, 1984. Truffaut’s death was a sad day for world cinema as it marked an end of an era for French cinema.
In the aftermath of François Truffaut’s death, his films have been frequently revisited by fans and scholars through various retrospectives and tributes. His childhood friend Claude Miller made a film based on one of Truffaut’s script called The Little Thief that starred Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film focused on a young girl who steals for a living. While Truffaut’s influence in cinema was obvious before his death, many of the New Hollywood filmmakers like Arthur Penn and Terrence Malick cited films such as The Wild Child as a major influence on their films. In 1983, Blake Edwards did a remake of The Man Who Loved Women that starred Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, and Kim Basinger that wasn’t well-received.
In 1988, the Italian film industry created a special award named in his honor to celebrate actors and filmmakers all over the world. Recipients of the award have included Abbas Kiarostami, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Baz Luhrmann. In that same year, Jean-Luc Godard paid tribute to Truffaut in his video series Histoires du cinema.
It’s been 30 years since his passing, and 65 years since the release of The 400 Blows, but François Truffaut’s impact on the world of cinema still remains strong. Truffaut brought new and exuberant ideas to the themes of love and children that still resonate today. One of the godfathers of cinema as we now know it, François Truffaut has made some of the finest films to ever grace the screen. He has continually shown why he is one of the most influential directors in the world of cinema.
© thevoid99 2015